Cerro Pelado, same prow, same compass

When the United States vainly tried to stop the Cuban sports delegation from attending the Central American and Caribbean Games hosted by Puerto Rico

“CERRO Pelado, your entry into the territorial waters of the United States or San Juan, or any Puerto Rican port, is forbidden, I repeat, forbidden. You are informed that the boat’s entry will result in it being seized. These territorial waters extend to three nautical miles from the coast.”


Havana (June 16, 2011) –  JUNE 1966. Cuban sport was writing one of its most glorious pages 45 years ago this month. Speaking of that heroic event, Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro said, “It is possible that there is no delegation to which our homeland owes more gratitude than this one for the battle that its members waged, for the triumphs they obtained at the hardest moments, for the dignity that they displayed.”

But, what happened in June of that year?

As Cuban athletes, we know how to act, not only in terms of defending our right, but a right of all the peoples and for the prestige of sports, which should exist as a link among peoples.

Sports did not escape the aggression of the superpower, which could not stand the way in which Cuban society in all its spheres was developing in the hands of a socialist Revolution. That was why the empire’s aircraft were broadcasting the above message to the boat transporting the Cuban delegation to the 10th Central American and Caribbean Games hosted by Puerto Rico. The response was the Cerro Pelado Declaration, which stated, “As Cuban athletes, we know how to act, not only in terms of defending our right, but a right of all the peoples and for the prestige of sports, which should exist as a link among peoples.” The text was engraved on the boat’s deck.

MV "Cerro Pelado", built in Spain for Cuba 1966

The United States had been trying from the previous year to prevent a Cuban presence at the Central American meet, and even insinuated to the organizers that the island should not be invited to the Games. But, in the face of the valiant attitude of our athletes and countless worldwide protests, the yankee government was forced to give the Cubans landing visas, which they did not do until almost the start of the opening event.

That was the first Cuban gold medal in those Games, because it was a medal in defense of principles, won by a group of athletes who, from that moment, were known as the Delegation of Dignity.

It was the same quality that has impregnated the history of Cuban revolutionary struggles. The U.S. aircraft flying over the boat to prevent its entry into colonized waters or its seizure, came up against that attribute, more than present in a vessel filled with baseball and volleyball players, fencers, footballers and athletes… and with a patriotic history, given the status of the Cerro Pelado’s captain. Onelio Pino had faith in another victory, and returned to the high seas to crew a boat of revolutionaries, as he did aboard the Granma yacht when it sailed from Tuxpan on that night of November 25, 1956.

Pino, the athletes and his crew showed that they could inflict a blow similar to that dealt by the Rebel Army to the Batista dictatorship on September 27, 1958 in what was then known as Cerro Pelado, now Bartolomé Maso municipality. Its hills bore witness to the bravery of the young women of the Mariana Grajales battalion, of Captains Braulio Coroneaux and Pedro Miret, and Comandante Elías Lalo Sardiñas, especially acknowledged by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro.

In the name of that history, the boat and its human cargo rose to the occasion, despite having to drop anchor five miles from San Juan, with the athletes completing the journey aboard small launches in order to compete and win. The delegation’s second place by country was the embryo of a world sporting power.

From then, Cuban sports began to grow. Five years later, 40 years ago, Cuba achieved the feat of winning second place in the Pan American Games in Cali, Colombia. It was there that Pedro Pérez Dueñas, now a doctor, set the first of the 31 world records imposed by Cuba, not including the four equaling those already won.

Ten years later, in Montreal 1976, 35 years ago, revolutionary Cuba was among the 10 first nations of those Olympics and it was there that Alberto Juantorena achieved a world record in the 800 meters flat and a gold in the 400 meters.

And, 20 years ago, the 39 countries of the continent and 4,519 athletes, without excluding anyone, competed for 349 gold medals in a veritable sports fiesta. The Havana 1991 Pan American Games, despite the fact that Cuba was confronting a double economic blockade, that of the United States, then in place for 30 years, and another, provoked by the disappearance of the socialist camp, was described as the best in history by the Pan American Sports Organization… and in which the island excelled as host and leader of the medals table, for the first time above the United States.

The Cerro Pelado’s prow opened the way for those victories, just as today the Cuban sports movement is committed both to the Guadalajara Pan American Games this October, and the materialization of sports in every neighborhood and school, following the same compass of that boat, that of the idea of Fidel Castro, expressed as early as April 1, 1959. “When all children find in the city, in the town, an appropriate place for developing their physical condition and totally dedicate themselves to the practice of the sport of their preference, then the desire of all of us who have made this Revolution will have been met.

Granma International


* * *

Cerro Pelado – the film

The 34-minute film by Santiago Álvarez takes as its title the name of the boat that carried the Cuban sports team to the 10th Central American and Caribbean Games, which in 1966 were held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the United States attempted to prevent Cuban participation. By now, Alvarez has developed the principal characteristics of his style. The film is constructed in the form of a chronological visual narration of the sequence of events, with minimal verbal commentary, interspersed with sections using montage and captions to expound the political background to the central events. Music is used in place of commentary to narrate the film. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0133687/)

Spanish synopsis:

La delegación cubana a los X Juegos Deportivos Centroamericanos y del Caribe de San Juan, Puerto Rico, asiste al evento en el buque Cerro Pelado, donde realizan los entrenamientos y defienden su derecho a competir frente al boicot de los Estados Unidos para impedir su participación. Al final logran el mayor número de medallas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cuba, History

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s